Tag Archives: Chestnut-bellied Malkoha

Singapore’s last surviving Malkoha.

Contributed by Alan OwYong.

The last surviving Malkoha, the Chestnut-bellied Phaenicophaeus sumatranus, that was once confined to the Singapore Central Forest and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve has adapted well to the forest fringes and buffer nature parks since the start of the century. But our early specimens were collected from the mangroves along Kranji River, Jurong and Seletar, Sungei Sembawang and Ulu Pandan. It must be this adaptability that sees it surviving until today. Its closest relative here, the Black-bellied Malkoha P. Diardi, died out in the 1950s due to its dependence on denser forests in the interior that were logged ( per cons Yong Ding Li). So did the smaller Raffles’s and Red-billed Malkohas. We can learn from these extinctions and manage our forest to protect our last malkoha and other similiar species from meeting the same fate.

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha at JEG

Rare open view at the Jurong Eco Gardens, where nesting have been recorded.

Mainly arboreal, it hops from branch to branch looking for large insects and small vertebrates at the forest canopies.  Unlike cuckoos, it builds its own nest and care for its young on its own. This uncommon breeding resident is both globally and nationally near-threatened.

Chestnut-bellied Malkoha at Jelutong

Jelutong Tower is the best place to get eye-level shots of this canopy feeder. Its diet of large insects makes it vulnerable and is listed as nationally near-threatened.

I have seen them foraging along the Mandai Lake Road in the early 2000s. Those who remembered the Mandai Orchid Gardens will know of the few nesting records there. One of the nest was inside a low ficus tree right next to the souvenir stall at the Gardens close to the visitors path. Another nesting was outside the Bukit Timah Visitor Center at roof top level. The eggs on an open flimsy nest were at the mercy of the preying Long-tailed Macaques. The most recent nesting records however came from Jurong Eco Gardens. These Malkohas can still be seen there today.

000000020036-001

Eye-level nest at the Mandai Orchid Gardens right next to the visitor’s walkway. 

Besides keeping the Central Forest intact, the creation of buffer nature parks augurs well for the survival and well being of this jewel of our forest.

Reference: Lim Kim Seng. The Avifauna of Singapore. Nature Society (Singapore) 2009. Craig Robson. A field Guide to the Birds of Thailand and South East Asia. Asia Books Co. Ltd. A.F.S.L. Lok and T.K. Lee. Brood Care of the Chestnut-bellied Malkoha. Nature in Singapore 2008.1.85-92. 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Destination Singapore: A Birder’s Gateway to the Jungles of Southeast Asia – Part 1

Every year, the varied habitats of Southeast Asia draw scores of international birdwatchers to the region in search of its avian jewels. Over a fifth of the world’s birds occurs in this region, from pittas and trogons in the lush rainforests of Indonesia to rare wintering waders on the coasts of Thailand, and any aspiring global birdwatcher is likely to require several visits to the region to do it justice to Southeast Asia’s incredible birdlife.

The island nation of Singapore, with its world-renowned airport and excellent infrastructure, is widely regarded as the gateway to Southeast Asia. However, what many birders don’t realise is that apart from being a transit hub to exotic destinations around the region, Singapore is in itself an excellent birding destination, home to a both resident and migratory birds which are often very tricky to observe in other countries in the region. Trying to see some of these species in other parts of tropical Asia would often involve visits to remote national parks and which would require lengthy journeys over rugged terrain. In this instalment, we profile three globally threatened and near-threatened resident bird species which are commonly encountered in Singapore, but otherwise difficult to observe elsewhere.

Straw-headed Bulbul Con Foley We start the ball rolling with the globally threatened Straw-headed Bulbul, one of the largest and most distinctive bulbuls in Southeast Asia and unfortunately, also perhaps the most threatened. This bulbul was once common throughout much of Southeast Asia, but its beautiful song has made it highly sought after in the cage bird trade. Consequently populations have crashed throughout the region, particularly in Indonesia and Thailand.

The bulbul inhabits secondary forests along the interface between water and land, and can be found in a range of habitats from riverine forests to mangroves. In Singapore, the Straw-headed Bulbul has also adapted well to wooded public parks and is readily encountered in suitable habitat across the island. Thankfully, many local sites supporting good numbers of this species are also well-used recreational spaces that are regularly patrolled by rangers, which appear to deter would-be poachers from trapping these iconic birds. Some of the best places to observe this magnificent songster is the Bukit Batok Nature Park, and the island of Pulau Ubin.

Another regular avian feature of Singapore’s wooded landscape is the globally Near-threatened Grey-headed Fish-Eagle. This distinctive raptor generally inhabits forested rivers and lakes and although widespread throughout Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, is locally distributed and in decline due to habitat loss and pollution across many of the region’s large rivers.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Grey-headed Fish-eagle at Guilin Nature Park. Photo Alan OwYong

However, just as with the aforementioned species, this bird appears to have adapted to urban water bodies in Singapore, and the ample supply of large non-native fish introduced by irresponsible pet owners inhabiting them. Interestingly, this species is now regularly encountered at many urban green spaces throughout Singapore including the Singapore Botanic Gardens and breeds regularly on the hills around Little Guilin Park. The continuing expansion of this eagle into urban Singapore offers a unique case study into how introduced species have the potential to benefit the very predators which consume them.

Last but not least, we have the globally Near-threatened Chestnut-bellied Malkoha, Singapore’s only surviving member of this distinctive group. Despite being a member of the cuckoo family, malkohas do not lay their eggs in the nests of other birds but instead construct nests and raise their own chicks. Many malkohas inhabit the rainforests of Southeast Asia and are consequently threatened by habitat loss, and this species is no exception. Outside of Singapore, this species is infrequently encountered in mangroves, rainforest and secondary growth throughout Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo.

000000020036
Chestnut-bellied Malkoha at Mandai Orchid Gardens Photo: Alan OwYong.

In Singapore, however, the species is not regularly encountered in mangroves but instead is fairly common in our forest reserves and adjacent areas of secondary growth and even well-wooded parks. Many international birders visiting Singapore include this in their lists of must-see birds during their sojourn on the island.

So the next time you visit Singapore on a birding trip, take some time to explore the country as well! You just might end up adding some lifers to your list which you otherwise might not have seen. For the local birdwatchers, do take the time to appreciate our feathered friends who share the island with us; there is more to Singapore’s birds than just crows and mynas!

This article is written and edited by our guest contributors Albert Low and Yong Ding Li. They are both highly travelled birdwatchers from Singapore, and are among the top Asian birders, ranked by number of bird species seen in Asia. Photo Credits: Con Foley, Alan OwYong & Francis Yap.

 

Photo Gallery of the birds featured:

Part 2 of the series
Part 3 of the series

This article is written and edited by our guest contributor Albert Low with help from Yong Ding Li. They are both highly travelled birdwatchers from Singapore, and are among the top Asian birders, ranked by number of bird species seen in Asia. Photo Credits: Con Foley, Alan OwYong & Francis Yap.